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Norway House News Stories


Norway House and surrounding communities face many challenges, social, political, and economic. The news summaries below, organised by topic, reflect that reality. The rationale behind their inclusion is the belief that the school and its students need to be aware of local challenges and add their voices to discussion on how best to address them. In order to contribute, however, students need to be critical thinkers, able to sift through information and make sense of it. Therefore, the following news summaries are designed to model critical thinking through analysis. Each article has been reviewed and summarised with the following questions in mind. How informative is it? Does it clarify issues? Does the writer display bias? Are any questions left unanswered? What new information is revealed? How does it add to the topic at hand? Is the reader left hanging?




21 November 2009: “Banking on big nickel deposit: If northern mine proves feasible, it means work for 400 people” [Winnipeg Free Press, B4]

There could be a new nickel mine in Manitoba before long that would provide employment opportunities for the neighbouring communities of Wabowden, Cross Lake, Grand Rapids, Moose Lake, and Norway House. On 20 November 2009, Victory Nickel Inc. made a presentation at the Manitoba Mining and Minerals convention in Winnipeg to highlight a proposed new mining development at Minago, which is about halfway between Grand Rapids and Ponton near Highway 6. Victory had spent “close to $30 million developing the property over the last 10 years, and was awaiting the third-party feasibility study that “could set the table for another $450-million mining project in Northern Manitoba.” According to Rene Galipeau, Victory’s vice-chairman and CEO, “This could be a mega-project.” Indeed it could be as large as the Lalor mine, which is forecast to cost $450 million to develop. It would be an open-pit mine and require 400 people to operate it. Chris Beaumont-Smith, a senior minerals policy and business development official with the province’s Department of Innovation, Energy and Mines, said, “It could be spectacular. There is much to do before that could happen, as Victory Nickel is a junior exploration company based in Toronto with only about $5 million in the bank and no revenues to speak of.” However, if the feasibility study proved positive, it could enable the company to get financial backing from the banks. It got a boost in August 2009, when “Jilin Jien Nickel Industry Co. Ltd., China’s second-largest nickel, bought close to 20 per cent” of its shares.

The project certainly looks promising. The deposit is close to Highway 6 and to the Hudson Bay Railway (HBR), which is only about 60 kilometres away. Hydro power is also nearby. Talks have also been held with OMNItrax, which owns the HBR, about a potential business partnership. The company has also signed memorandums of understanding with three of the First Nations in the area – Grand Rapids, Cross Lake and Moose Lake – and believes it has their support.

Norway House had not come on board at time of writing, but Dave Chomiak, Manitoba’s Minister of Innovation, Energy and Mines, said that “there had been significant positive developments over the last few years between the mining industry and the aboriginal community in Manitoba.” He added, “The really good news is that the mining industry is looking for hundreds of workers in the future, and we have got a lot of people that are underemployed and a lot of First Nations people who want to be involved.”

Update (14 December 2009): Victory Nickel announced that the feasibility study for the Minago Open Pit Mine was positive. According to Rene Galipeau, this was a “major milestone” for the development of Minago. Early in 2010, the company will “create a project execution plan, begin road construction on site, select financial advisors to structure financing and submit the Environmental Impact Statement with a view of receiving environmental and operating permits before the end of 2010. In addition, consultations with local Aboriginal groups and other stakeholders can now be continued with a better understanding of the opportunities that are potentially available to local communities.”

Update (22 December 2009): Victory Nickel Inc. announced that it had expanded its property position at Minago by staking 11 additional claims at its 100%-owned project in the Thompson Nickel Belt. It now controlled the entire limestone outcrop, which will be used to produce building materials for the construction of access roads and a link to Highway 6. Building will start in the winter of 2009-2010.

Minago is one of “Canada’s largest undeveloped sulphide nickel deposits and has been shown to be capable of producing a nickel concentrate grading up to 22.3%, making it the world’s highest grade nickel concentrate. In addition to metal by-products such as copper, cobalt, gold, platinum, palladium, silver and rhodium, a layer of silica sand averaging approximately 9 metres thick overlies the nickel mineralization within the open pit. Approximately 84% of this 15 million tonne … sand resource is marketable frac sand, which is used to improve recoveries in the oil and gas industry. The frac sand forms part of the overburden that must be removed prior to mining the nickel ore.”

Discussion: How could the development of a new mine affect nearby Aboriginal communities? What additional things need to happen before this project gets underway?

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9 November 2010: “Gillam-to-Nunavut road a step closer to reality” [Winnipeg Free Press, A6]

Bruce Owen is to be commended for drawing the attention of Manitobans to the possibility of “an all-weather road from Manitoba to Nunavut.” The proposed road “would start in Gillam, run through Churchill and up along the Hudson Bay coast to the Nunavut communities of Arviat, Whale Cove, and Rankin Inlet.” In a 2005 study, the estimated cost of construction was $1.2 billion, a figure that would be higher now, but Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak said that the “high cost of transportation and high cost of goods and services” in Nunavut made it “necessary.” Manitoba premier Greg Selinger also indicated his interest in the economic development of the north. Noting that “winter roads just don’t last as long anymore,” because of climate change, he said that “if we’re going to develop the economy, we need the proper infrastructure and a road is a key part of that.”

The road had been under discussion for some years now.

In 2005, the Manitoba and Nunavut governments and the Kivalliq Inuit Association launched a $1-million study to look at three proposed routes.” It also looked at the social, economic, and environmental effects of a road into the Far North.

As usual, there were differences of opinions on the value of the road. For some the focus was economic. The isolated northern communities needed a reliable transportation route to bring in food, building materials and other goods as their economies expand. For others, the focus was on the environment. They feared that an all-weather road would increase “human access to fragile wilderness areas.”

In spite of those concerns, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak signed an agreement on Monday, November 8, that called on both their governments to begin consultations on a cost-benefit study. It also called for both governments to co-operate on health services, research on the uses of renewable energy (including technology), the development of joint tourism projects, and collaboration on culture, education and sporting activities.

Discussion: Premier Selinger noted that a major challenge would be getting Ottawa to come onboard with funding. Why might Ottawa be interested in promoting the all-weather road?

The maintenance costs of this proposed all-weather road have been estimated to be $8 to $11 million a year. The estimated yearly cost of running the new human rights museum Winnipeg is about $20 million. Like all estimates, both are probably out by many millions. However, if they are relatively close to reality, where would we be getting the biggest bang for our buck?

Consider this. The building of the railways into Western Canada sparked economic development that is still occurring after a century. What could an all-weather road do for the development of communities in Northern Manitoba and Nunavut?

Environmentalists, most of them from places outside of Northern Manitoba and Nunavut, have worked hard to prevent northern development. Their influence is particularly noticeable in Eastern Manitoba, where they have lobbied against all-weather roads that would bring economic relief to the aboriginal communities in north-eastern Manitoba. They have also used their influence to persuade the Government of Manitoba to build BiPole III on the west side of Lake Manitoba, a proposal that may ironically do more environmental damage. What arguments do you see this lobby group using to prevent the building of an all-weather road to Nunavut?

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9 November 2010: “Northern transport summit held” [Winnipeg Free Press, A6]

The Arctic Gateway Summit was held in Winnipeg at the beginning of November 2010 to “hammer out some key elements needed to build a viable global transportation system in the North.” Business writer Martin Cash, who has kept abreast of developments connected with CentrePort Canada, was there to cover the event.

The two-and-a-half-day conference at the University of Winnipeg was sponsored by OmniTRAX, the Denver firm that owns the Hudson Bay Railroad and the Port of Churchill. It was co-hosted by Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and University President Lloyd Axworthy, “one of the Port of Churchill’s oldest and staunchest supporters.”

Michael Ogborn, executive vice-president of OmniTRAX Canada viewed the conference as a “critical step toward establishing a viable and sustainable transportation system in the North.” Such a system could involve the expansion of international links via the Arctic Ocean. Axworthy drew attention to the “geographic proximity … of Canada’s north to northern Russia,” which is a major argument for an “Arctic bridge” between the two. This is one key factor in the “future development potential” of CentrePort Canada, which could benefit from shorter shipping times along northern routes to Asia. Michael Ogborn underscored this point by noting that “the route from Murmansk, Russia, to Churchill is 1,447 nautical miles shorter than to Pacific ports and can cut five days off shipping times.” Considering that current transportation costs are $40,000 a day, this becomes a considerable savings.

There was a “sizable delegation from Russia, including Denis Pashkov, minister of industry and energy of the large central Russian region of Krasnoyarsk Krai.” He emphasized the need for transportation corridors and that Russia wanted to co-operate with others in this area, “not necessarily in mineral and resource development, but in mutually developing both these regions.”

Discussion: There is considerable international fear of Russian interest in the Arctic. Why are the circumpolar nations worried about that interest?

How might the United States react to an expansion of international trade routes between Russia and North America?

One of the assumptions behind the current interest in the Arctic is the widespread belief that the Arctic Ocean is going to be ice-free. How would the proposed Arctic transportation routes be affected, if that doesn’t happen?

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16 November 2010: “Chiefs push for road in north” [Helen Fallding, Winnipeg Free Press, A3]

Journalist Helen Fallding, who had been publicizing the acute problems caused by the lack of running water in the Island Lake District of North-eastern Manitoba, next turned her attention to a lobbying effort by local leaders. Chiefs from Wasagamack, St. Theresa Point, Garden Hill, and Red Sucker Lake flew to Winnipeg in November 2010 for a news conference at the Island Lake Tribal Council office. They wanted to speed up construction of a $1.4-billion all-weather road from Norway House to Island Lake, so that they could get running water in the community. “All plumbing and construction supplies now have to be brought in via an ice road that was open for less than four weeks this year.”

Grand Chief Ron Evans, also at the news conference, said that the province told them it would take thirty years to build the road. However, he estimated that it would take “less than ten years,” if there were federal money provided. So far, none has been promised.

Ten years was a long time to wait for communities that already had a water crisis like the one in Island Lake. Cheaper transportation would lower the cost of bringing in plumbing and construction materials that came in during 2010 on a winter road that was only open for a few weeks.

Indian Affairs should have taken the lead regarding such matters. Instead, it passed on a Free Press inquiry about the road to Infrastructure Canada. This latter government department replied that it had not received “a formal request from the Manitoba government for funding for new all-weather roads for the Island Lake region,” although it promised that such a request would be “examined in the context of available funding.”

NDP MP Niki Ashton, who represented Northern Manitoba in the federal House of Commons, “raised the issue of roads to northeastern Manitoba numerous times” in the House. She questioned the federal government’s annual expenditure “on ice-road maintenance, flying in emergency supplies and medivacs,” rather than making a “long-term commitment to an all-weather road.”

Discussion: At one point in her article, Helen Fallding mentioned that the East Side Road Authority had a week earlier [9 November 2010] made a news release about the “east-west route” from Norway House to the Island Lake District.

Right after making that statement, Fallding added that “A previous proposal for a road all the way up the east side of Lake Winnipeg was rejected because it would have been 168 kilometres longer.” In fact, the “east side/west side” debate over the location of BiPole III had clearly established that the east side route was shorter than the west side route.

So what does the report really say? Here is a direct quotation from the news release.

The SNC review ruled out a north-south link between St. Theresa Point through Berens River First Nation to PR 304 because this route would have been approximately 168 kms longer than an east-west link to PR 375 (the nearest provincial road). A north-south link would also cross environmentally sensitive terrain that would also be difficult for all-season road construction.

Of course, the east-west route touted by the East Side Road Authority is going to be “shorter”, because it only goes to Norway House! The calculation (see map of route on page 4 of the news release) is based on the distance to PR 357 “the nearest provincial road”, which is at Norway House! It is still 810 km by road from Norway House to Winnipeg, the main distribution centre of Manitoba.

The route down the east side to PR 304 is naturally longer than the distance to Norway House, but the junction of PR 304 and the route north to Berens River is only 200 km away from Winnipeg.

See why it is wise to check the fine print? The news release was disingenuous at best, but Fallding apparently fell for it. The East Side Road Authority is an arm of the Manitoba government and as such supports the longer west-side route for BiPole III. Do you suppose that could explain why there is this reference to a “shorter” east-west route? You be the judge!

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18 November 2010: “Bad decision mirrored” [Chief George Kemp of Berens River, Winnipeg Free Press, A15]

The response to Helen Fallding’s article was not long in coming. In his letter to the Winnipeg Free Press, Chief George Kemp of Berens River First Nation stated,

The key to development for remote communities on the east side of Lake Winnipeg was lost when the decision was made to route the Bipole III line on the west side.

If Manitoba Hydro had decided to build the line down the east side, the cost savings in construction and power evaporation from the lines could have paid for an east side road. And these savings over the years could have paid for sewer and water development and other infrastructure needs. Now our communities are left to cry out for government help for many years to come.

Chief Kemp corrected the impression left by Helen Falldring that the east-side route was “longer.”

The decision to build a road from Island Lake to Norway House mirrors the west side line decision – it’s the long way around to Winnipeg. A good road down the east side from Island Lake would provide the quickest route to Winnipeg. It would be only a 5.5-hour drive instead of 15 hours through Norway House.

Chief Kemp concluded his letter in this way.

I may be a lone wolf on this east side issue, but I believe we are witnessing one of the biggest mistakes in this province’s history. All Manitobans will pay for it for many years to come, especially our people on the east side of Lake Winnipeg.

Discussion: Chief Kemp set the record straight. The north-south route down the east side of Lake Winnipeg is the shorter and more economical route. Fallding’s article gave the impression that it was otherwise, based on a superficial reading of the news release by the East Side Road Authority.

Is Chief Kemp a lone wolf on this issue? And, is he right in concluding that the abandonment of the east side option for BiPole III will be so damaging?

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Last updated: March 16, 2011


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